The rest of the world is blurry in my peripheral vision. For a moment, I catch sight of a flash of white shirt which I belongs to a boy I know. But here and now I register it only for a second, as part of a kaleidoscope of shapes and colours, fuzzy and out of focus. As I walk confidently through this giro, my eyes are fixed right here, on the tiny triangle of skin exposed by the shallow V of his T-shirt, a few tufts of escaping hair, a freckle toffee brown against the skimmed milk whiteness, like a speck of nutmeg in a cream sauce, and the U shaped sternal notch. I cup his shoulder blade firmly in my hand, focusing on the movement of his back, reflected in its subtle changes of position, in the sliding of muscle against bone. I swing round into a parada and feel the indentation of his leg as it tapers to the ankle. My own foot nestles into the hollow above the bony protrusion of his fibula and sweeps lightly upwards.
Then we are in close embrace again: his hair is tickling my face, a curly curtain of warm strands. I feel like a hiker deep in a forest: fronds and foliage brushing against my skin as I enter a narrow tunnel of vegetation. His left hand is firm in my right, fingers curling, palm pressing against mine as if to force out the air and form a vacuum seal, to glue us together. I twist against him and roll across the firm undulations of his chest in a back ocho, like a stamp rolled carefully over paper, inking its contours evenly onto the document, catching each edge and filling it with colour. It’s crowded tonight: our world is small. We have one little circle in which to move. We twist and turn and chase our own tails, two snakes swallowing each other, planets circling an invisible sun, a twin trident curving around, a double helix, a Moebius strip, an infinity symbol. Infinity in a grain of sand, in a tiny patch of polished wooden floor. Pivots are tight and precise, we turn on a sixpence, like a pair of thoroughbred horses. And every gesture has to count. Here, where I tap my foot lightly against his shin in time with the triplets in the music. There, where I flirtatiously slip my free foot between his and rub the inside of his ankle in a playful dotted rhythm, a dancer’s syncopated Braille. There is no room to express the strong accent with a large movement. Instead, I let my free foot whip around the standing one at ankle height, as he leads a boleo, and give an additional abruptness to my movement to catch the music’s accentuation.
Motion is restricted here. What was a gas has turned to a thick and viscous, slow-flowing liquid and threatens to become a solid with atomised couples vibrating in place, jostling each other but unable to move freely. So instead of space we have only time. The long drawn-out violin note makes me want to send my free foot out tracing an ear-shaped rulo on the ground, like the travelling lover in the valediction. But these compasses have to stay almost completely upright. I just let my upper body lift instead, like an inhalation before a sigh, and try to signal the lyrical legato line with an expectant torso.
Less is no longer more. Less is all we have. We have only a discarded orange here, already juiced. We will have to squeeze hard to get the last drops onto our tongues. We are twin Helen Kellers, turning sound tactile, trying to express everything in a touch: listen! look! — but, if you cannot, feel, feel, feel. My eyes are shut now and my arm is wrapped around his shoulders like a neat, tight ribbon on a parcel, tucked in like a hospital corner, with no protruding edges, no awkward elbows sticking out at an angle. I am making myself, making us, efficiently small. We’re cogwheels in a clockwork mechanism, moving and turning with the rest of those on the floor, synchronised swimmers in a crowded pool.
We used to believe the universe was sparse: with vast empty distances between stars; the cell nucleus an apple in a huge, echoing, vacant barn with tiny electrons whizzing around like supersonic flies through the empty space; the genome largely littered with junk, with only a few readable genes. But now we know that the cell makes the Tokyo subway look like a desert; that the atom is smeared fuzzy-full with electron clouds; that the genome is a complex program embedded with a million macros, every one of them busily coding, coding, coding; that the universe is thick and heavy with dark matter. That there is no emptiness — there’s fullness, claustrophobic fullness, everywhere. Every last space is already taken.
In three dimensions, everything is occupied. I feel a jolt through his body. We’re like atoms in a metal, sharing an electric charge which ripples through us. But we have the fourth dimension. We can differentiate our times: step faster here and slower there, drag out this movement of the free leg, waiting to slide the top of my foot onanistically up my own calf before stepping over, touching his foot, one two three AND two — footsie beneath the crowded dining table — rooting myself and refusing to move here, in respect for the music’s emphatic paragraph break.
I’ve always loved the intimacies of high season. The way in which the crowds of dancers around you force a focus not on travelling or traversing, but on the small circular world of the couple, the chalk circle within which we conjure, Faust and Mephistopheles in the library. My world is bounded by the leader’s body. Had we but world enough and time we could be coy, but now I need to touch him, feel him, sense him. It’s a vegetable love without the tangy umami, without the unsubtle tastes of meat. A place in which every gesture counts and what movements lose in size they gain in meaningfulness. A dance shrunk down to us, just us.